Tuesday, 11 January 2011


Kiki Taira
Sideshow 2010: British Art Show 7: Nottingham
One Finch...Performance Weekender: curated by Jenna Finch
by Victoria Gray

Kiki Taira is an artist whose multidisciplinary approach brings together sculpture and performance. Her performance works explore and exploit the simplest of interactions between objects and bodies, reframing them as transformative sculptural experiences.

For 'One Finch Performance Weekender', curated by Jenna Finch, part of Sideshow 2010, British Art Show 7, Kiki Taira presented an action, very much contingent on the work not-working for it to work at all. Not-working becomes a positive, rather than a negative proposition in this performance and so cunningly Taira has the most solid of disclaimers, she means to meet with failure, re-framing it as a means to success.


Taira begins with a strip light, similar to one you might find in any office, the most artificial of artificial lights. Placing it carefully on the ground she casually unravels an extension cable that is then plugged into a nearby electricity socket. The ease with which she ‘begins’ to perform these actions makes us question if and when she ‘begins’ at all. We are deliberately left wondering if an action has a start or end point, whether it is one framed as performance or; why and how the simple action of plugging into a power socket, in ‘performance’ retains so much interest. This difference, between performing and not-performing is deliberately ironed out in Taira’s performance so that wilfully we become engaged and impressed by the simple pleasure of watching somebody just ‘do something.’

Taira continues to ‘do something’ with the strip light yet things do not flow seamlessly. As the light refuses to come on we are caught in a dilemma, a situation, a true situation for performance whereby the body and the objects are in real dialogue with each other. Both objects are live, the body and the light by virtue of its electrical current. In both cases this is their power and their potential demise, both have an unknown life of their own. Taira consciously mediates between the two, wrestling with their unconscious attempts to wrangle her plan.

Taira has not put in place a safety net and whilst we are simultaneously confused and intrigued by the lights negation to perform its only function, this negation becomes its and Taira’s art. Taira continues to try and find the source of the problem, pressing on the contacts that touch each end of the strip light until occasionally they blink, promisingly, yet with the fickleness of a candle in a threatening breeze. Determined to solve the problem, unapologetically Taira walks backwards and forwards between the faulty plug socket and the fickle light. Her ease reassures us that this is ok, and I am reminded that if the performer cares, we care. And so, we care for Taira as she grapples with cables and contacts, plugs and switches, not because we feel sorry for her, she can clearly handle this herself. We care because she performs each operation of trial and error on the faulty electrics with such intention that this is, for me, the main event.

After what feels like a (pleasurable) eternity of light flickering on and off, Taira is afforded some sympathy; and so for 5 minutes we, the pensive spectator, have the pleasure of looking or rather seeing. No constancy but now ‘working’, Taira appears and disappears under the light and non-light as she holds the lamp, defiantly, above her head. Her arms are stretched into a wide V forming a triangle, the strongest of shapes as she holds each end, widening her shoulders, pressing her upper body strength. We begin to understand that the light on/light off scenario is not just contingent upon the electrical current obliging from its power source, but is also related to Taira as the physical power source that presses the contact pins to the electrode. Each time her triangle of strength weakens, the required pressure to make this contact diminishes and so too does the light. In the darkness Taira is reminded of her own body’s limits and proceeds to press on through, generating more and more instances of light.

If the sight of her constitutes her presence then she is with us only half of the time. This is the allure, fleeting and ephemeral, we catch a glimpse of Taira’s slight frame and long, long hair, each time she appears. I had not mentioned but prior she had removed her simple t-shirt to reveal a torso wearing only a bra. This removal is no big deal, it is not a strip, lightly executed as casually as the unravelling of the power cable. As a woman, to ‘do’ an action like this, and to ‘do’ it in such a way that it sidesteps any potentially loaded cultural connotations, those that the dressing and undressing of the female form is frustratingly shackled to, is important.

We see her, again, slight frame, long, long hair as she continues to raise the strip light above her head, casting light down her graceful back and throwing shadow onto the wall. In the event of light, two Taira’s emerge from the one before, both her concrete being and her doppelganger shadow morph each time the light is held in a different position. Like a contortionist she moves the light behind her back, rotating her shoulders in such a way that we see the affect move through her whole torso to accommodate this flexion. The distortion feels necessary, the body has entered the visual art work and is working itself out, has found parity between the body and object in a body/object, action/sculpture.

The ubiquitous strip light re-emerges here as an object of intrigue, making the familiar strange. Reigniting interest in such common place objects and materials is Taira’s art, not content upon re-presenting them as aesthetically pleasing images, Taira performs the objects, revealing their inherent choreography of materiality. Through performance, Taira reveals to us the weight, shape, texture and temperature of an object by quite simply testing its limits. As a result her performances are tactile, contingent, open-ended, reciprocal and enquiring object activities. The term ‘spontaneous action’ is used by Taira to define her methodology and approach to performance. Defiantly against the production of gratifying, self conscious images, Taira negates this quick pay off for riskier, process lead moments of ‘becoming’. She is braver than I am.

Unplugging the light she proceeds to unite the black cable with its portable shell, winding it again and again, pursuing, even as it stubbornly sticks. Taira’s perseverance is noted, she will not be beat, and since it is not about finding that elusive performance image, these knots make us free from those pressures, of the ‘good’ work and the ‘bad’ work, of the fear of making a mistake. All the while an audience member has been holding a small black bag that Taira produced at the beginning of her performance. The contents of this black bag are a mystery to us all and remain so, even after the performance has finished. When asked, Taira takes the bag away from me and explains that only the person holding it had the opportunity to look inside and since he did not, it would remain there. I imagine, by the weight of the bag and the feel, the spectator might have been able to make an educated guess as to what was inside the bag, but if he did he did not say. This non-showing, mirrors the concept of seeing and not-seeing that figures so prominently in this work, each time the light gives us a glimpse of Taira and then takes it away.

Showing (off)/Non-Showing(off)

This, most subtle of relationships between objects in her performances, figure in much of the work I have seen Taira perform before. Taira has commented that bringing objects into the performance space, even if they are not used is an important part of the work, as opposed to being redundant these objects are charged and so, regardless of the actuality of incorporating them into the action, they of course are implicated, just by their very presence. This is the most simple of Taira’s techniques, the courage to present objects in their most simple, naked form, not to ‘use’ them but to allow them to just ‘be’.

Taira ‘finishes’ or rather, blends back in to being a spectator again by dressing, transforming herself again by adding a t-shirt and black jumper to her small frame. She stands near me and takes a moment, signalling a move from one phase into another. Taking a pint glass of Guinness she takes a sip and smiles at me; it is as if the whole thing had never happened.


Out of Time: Group Action and Temporary Autonomous Zone, almost
By Victoria Gray and Nathan Walker: O U I Performance

“If History IS “Time,” as it claims to be, then the uprising is a moment that springs up and out of Time, violates the “law” of History. If the state IS History, as it claims to be, then the insurrection is the forbidden moment, an unforgivable denial of the dialectic – shimmying up the pole and out of the smokehole, a shaman’s maneuver carried out at an “impossible angle” to the universe.” (Hakim Bey 1985: 98)

ArtEvict is happening in a once launderette, now squat building, just off Mare St in Hackney, East London. Over the past year ArtEvict has established itself, modestly, as an important platform for emerging contemporary performance practices most notably in the area of action art. It employs an open and democratic approach to curation, which negates an institutionalized curatorial approach; one often considered as a hierarchical practice that is predicated on the ‘good work’, ‘bad work’ school of thought. ArtEvict maintain this principle, however fluctuating and therefore risky it might be. This is the first of principles that set ArtEvict outside of the mainstream, the second is that ArtEvict happens in empty disused buildings, forgotten spaces, usually squats, and is organized with the collaboration and consent of residents. Using spaces such as this, those that in a social context are in direct opposition to state control are also, in an artistic context in direct opposition to the institutionalized control exercised by theatres and galleries. This negation from establishment happens in the event of it taking place in these particular contexts, and permits ArtEvict to perform its own autonomy and simultaneously perform its political stance. This idea mirrors Hakim Bey's concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) of a space which “does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it.” (Bey 1985: 99). As such, for ArtEvict to happen it must keep moving, between abandoned spaces, between artists, between practices and between times.

What follows is an account of the event of a group action that took place on 18th September, 2010. ‘Group Action Performance’, when put into a historical context seems, deliberately to escape any concretely recorded chronology and so in this instance, and at this moment, we simply identify collectives that have significantly informed theories of group action performance. From this lineage, which is not linear, we borrow and carry the torch of the theoretical principles practiced by Black Market International and Bbeyond; highlighting them as foundational examples and influential to our own practicing of this mode of performance.

The performances begin early in the evening with solo actions whereby Colm Clarke has spilt milk, Victoria Gray has burnt cotton, Velvet Swine has danced naked, Nathalie Bikoro has covered her face in clay and Jamie Lewis Hadley has bitch slapped and been bitch slapped, After a break, Kiki Taira initiates a 'group action' signaling its beginnings by marching continuously against a wall. The room changes and the space between performing and not performing, spectating and not-just-spectating blurs. The audience can no longer attempt any form of passivity, they are implicated just by ‘being’ there , they are amongst and inside the group action. Moments of grunge and feet standing on the wall, deathly march and ghostly shouts. The phantom actions of new shamans attempting to destabilise spectacle. Squatting there in the pillars inbetween, surrounded by windows, sleepy people and plants, mattresses, sleeping bags and dogs the air clogs the air ducts, fabric is unrolled and shakes like a specter curtain in a gale. Duncan Ward’s soiled face, black creases and talcum powder white as the apparition sheet. Medical bags as muzzles, faces barking ghost, dust rising, smokeholes for eyes. The actions transform the room, the room transforms the action, I didn’t think people felt like this anymore, this is what a group action feels like: stormy sea, unwashed cabin crew, disappearance.

Like Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone these young artists are playing with time, history, and the law. The group action acts on a network of relations whereby participants negotiate the performance of individual actions within the politics of a group situation. The events operate within an open structure, a methodology to explore modes of synchronization, communication and participation between performers and audiences and bodies and objects, relations that resonate aesthetically and politically. There are a variety of instances whereby the group experienced a synchronization of actions accessed via physical, verbal and psychic dimensions, folding and weaving to form a rhizomatic network. There is positivity in difference, felt in the rub of synchronic and discordant actions, sensed in the relationship between informed intuition and arbitrary coincidence and witnessed in the visual rhyme between bodies, objects and architecture. Synchronicity occurs as a moment of communication that takes place in the space between things.

A network of relations was exercised in the performance, but on a wider scale, this group action fused together a network of relations between key artist groups working in action art in the UK. Present were Colm Clarke of Bbeyond (Belfast), Bean & Jamie Lewis Hadley of ]Performance Space[ (London), Victoria Gray and Nathan Walker of O U I Performance (York) and ArtEvict (London).

“Like festivals, uprisings cannot happen every day...But such moments of intensity give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life...shifts and integrations have occurred--a difference is made.” (Bey 1985: 98) Bey notes that revolution, whilst seemingly attaining to a new permanence, rarely achieves permanent change. Instead, we favor these impermanent uprisings, temporary experiences that surface a new network of performance art in the U.K, practicing a contemporary experience of this art in this new decade.

Victoria Gray & Nathan Walker 2011


Bey, H (1985, 1991) T. A. Z. : The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. Autonomedia, New York.

Further Reading:

Bey, H. 'T. A. Z. : The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism''. Autonomedia. HTML Edition. Accessed online at http://hermetic.com/bey/taz_cont.html

LaChance, M '15 Principles of Black Market International' Accessed online at http://performancelogia.blogspot.com/2007/09/15-principles-of-black-market.html